AFTER ELECTED TO STUDENT COUNCIL. JOHN FINDS IT HARD TO KEEP UP WITH HIS SCHOOLWORK. HE GETS HIS GIRLFRIEND TO HELP HIM WITH HIS LESSONS, & FINALLY TO HELP HIM DURING A TEST. HIS CHEATING IS PUNISHED BY TEACHER, STUDENT COUNCIL, FRIENDS.
Unable to get over his math anxiety, John Taylor convinces his compliant friend Mary to help him cheat. As if goaded by the narrator's mocking voice, John takes greater and greater risks until he's finally caught. And then he faces the greatest sanction of all, far worse than any punishment meted out by officialdom: the condemnation of his fellow students. He's booted from his position as Student Council rep.
Shunning is the punishment for great moral crimes. Surprisingly, though, Cheating doesn't mention whether John is punished by his school. The issue isn't that he's offended the authorities, but that he's betrayed his peers. And, in fact, the script doesn't really say that cheating is wrong, but that it's unfair to others.
Like many social guidance films made by Centron Productions, Cheating avoids setting adults against teenagers. When authority flexes its muscles, it's expressed through the power of the peer group, rather than something handed down from on high. Like Day of Thanksgiving (on the Make Mine Freedom disc), Cheating is unusually progressive for its time, encouraging teens to make independent judgments and think for themselves. Now, the structures within which they are encouraged to do so are certainly somewhat flimsy (a Student Council meeting is no place for real activism) but the idea is clear enough. It's fair to say that writer Trudy Travis and producers Russ Mosser and Art Wolff understood the youth culture better than many of their peers, and weren't so threatened by adolescent autonomy.
Centron's Discussion Problems in Group Living series, unlike most social guidance films, sought to engender classroom discussion rather than lay down a fixed set of rules. Compared to the narrowly prescriptive films emanating from other producers, they seem courageously libertarian. The films in the series combine sync sound with a narrator's penetrating questions and are open-ended, often concluding with a giant question mark that expands to fill the screen.
Centron Productions was headquartered in Lawrence, Kansas, home of Kansas University and later (in the mid-1980s) the location for the TV movie The Day After, about a nuclear attack on the U.S. Most of Centron's hundreds of films were shot in and around Lawrence using locations still recognizable today, and most of the players were nonprofessionals, drawn from the community or from the university. Taken as a whole, the Centron collection is an unusually interesting record of the "look and feel" of Lawrence and the surrounding area, especially from the 1940s through 1970s. The voices, regional speech and mannerisms of the actors are also fascinating.
In addition, Centron films are full of unusual devices and experimentation; the expressionistic clock and telephone sequences at the start of this film are good examples. Like many films made at the Calvin Company in nearby Kansas City, Centron's titles show evidence of having been made as part of a collaborative learning process that lasted many years, and never seem stamped out of a mold as, for instance, do many Coronet films. Both Centron and Calvin seem to have nurtured a healthy streak of experimentalism, making films that pushed the acceptable boundaries of expression in the educational film business without ever sacrificing their good-natured, look-the-viewer-in-the-eyes style.
Ken Smith sez: A great "fear" film. It opens as expressionistic film noir, complete with ominous shadows, as we see "John Taylor" receiving a dreaded phone call. He's been voted out of his position as Student Council representative -- because he CHEATED! The nagging narrator-as-conscious harps relentlessly on poor John, telling him he's been "caught in a trap of his own making" and mocking him with lines such as "Yessir, you felt pretty pleased with yourself." In this scary universe, John's classmates oust and shun him as soon as they discover the truth. "So you were caught, John," the narrator pronounces with satisfaction. "You were exposed in front of the class." And all because he didn't want to study algebra. Many surreal visual gimmicks in this haunting film.
boy sitting starring at phone, dark picture
CU rotary phone
MS, boy sitting, rubs temples, can see clock ticking.
MCU boy answering phone, speaks, shadow of clock ticking BG, hangs
MS, boy sitting left, white door on right, boy stands up, walks to
door, opens it, walking out.
CU rotary phone, hand reaches in to answer it.
many phones in view, surreal montage of phones, some answered, some ringing; later answered; many voices all saying "John Taylor"
boy looking in mirror, (over shoulder shot), makes thinking facial
boy, girl sitting on sofa, living room setting, looking at books, studing.
back view of them sitting on sofa, back of boy's head, profile shot
girl, she looks down at book.
boy, girl sitting on sofa studying, speaking to each other
over shoulder shot of class room (teacher's shoulder). class full
of students taking exams.
MCU boy looking stressed, shakes head.
MCU back girl's head
MCU boy, rubbing neck, cut to back of girls head.
MS (side) girl sitting directly in front boy, boy begins to wisper
to girl in front, she lifts paper from desk so that boy can read it;
he copies it, she places paper back on desk. boy has a happy smile
on face, relaxed.
high shot class room full of students, teacher passing out papers
to each student, places one on girls desk.
CU Mary Mathews, with circled 95
MCU teacher handing paper to boy
CU John Taylor, with circled 92.
MCU boy looking at paper, looks up.
MCU woman, look of dought on face, turns walking away.
MCU boy holding paper thinking
MCU boy lying on bed, woman's face appears in upper right hand corner
of shot, face fades away, boy rolls over.
over shoulder shot boy looking in mirror
MCU football player talking to coach
three teens walking toward camera, dressed for winter.
MS boy standing, speaking to small of teens sitting around table
MCU boy speaking
boy lying on bed doing school work, phone begins to ring, boy gets up
boy speaking on phone to right, woman's face appears to left as
boy talks on phone, face fades away, boy hangs up phone, walks away,
clock can be seen ticking (shadow)
MCU of girl's head, she is looking down
boy/girl doing homework, living room setting, girl on sofa to left,
boy sitting in chair in front of camera, leaning on coffee table
writing. Boy sits up, looks at girl, begins to speak, boy stands
up walks to fire place, leans aganist it still speaking.
MS girl, empty chair next to her, she looks through notebook
removing piece of paper, hands it to boy as he sits down in chair.
he looks at it, they speak to each other.
MCU girl looking upset, looks down, looks back up.
Boy/girl look at each other, boy finishes writing, gets up to leave,
takes jacket off wall, leaves. MCU girl sitting on sofa reading,
stops, shows thinking facial expressions.
teens in classroom taking test.
MCU boy rubbing neck
boy taps shoulder of girl in front of him, she turns away looking
angry, continues tapping her shoulder, she turns around, leans
toward him, they speak, she makes shush sound.
MCU woman sitting at desk, black board BG
boy leaning toward girl in front of him speaking to her.
girl passing piece of paper to boy behind her, boy stands up walking
to front of class room, everyone looking at him; hands piece of
paper to teacher, she reads it, speaks, boy places hands in back
MCU girl looking down, shaking head
MCU boy in winter jacket
boy leaning aganist bar holding books, wearing jacket, students
walk by him, he says hello but they ignore him.
boy looking at ground left/right
boy hanging paper on bulletin board, another boy walks into picture
from right, backs are to camera, they speak to each other, boy on
left places hands on back of hips, boy on right looks at ground, other boy walks out of picture.
group of teens sitting around talking
MCU woman talking, sitting, looks left/right
MCU boy, profile shot
MCU boy talking on phone
boy sitting in dark room, hangs up phone, stands up walks to door,
opens it, places hands in back pockets, walks out.
CU clock, very dark
over shoulder shot boy looking in mirror
MCU girl's head, she looks down, lamp in BG
group of teens sitting around table speaking to each other.
CU clock, white question mark over it.
SCHOOLS TEENAGERS STUDENT COUNCIL CHEATING MORALS TEACHERS PUNISHMENT GIRLFRIENDS BOYFRIENDS CLASSROOMS Expressionism Surrealism Telephones Montages Visual effects
Danger Lurks Safety
Subject: Something About Mary
Subject: OK, apparently Herk Harvey did direct this!
Subject: FIlm make the viewer think
Subject: Kansas: World of Angst
As said below, the direction is unusual, effective and really creative for the genre. Definitely worthwhile viewing.
Subject: Social guidance film noir
Simple sets, sparse dialog, high contrast lighting. And that ticking clock! The viewers this film is aimed at would likely recently have read Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart."
Written, shot, and acted well enough that the announcer's voice-over explaining each scene is the worst aspect of the film.
Subject: Cheating on the atypical Social Guidance Film
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *****. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****. Also available on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Episode #515: The Wild World of Batwoman.